Tag Archives: Republican Party

In the Social Security Debate, Today’s Democrats Are Worse Than Yesterday’s Republicans

Having “retooled’’ his Presidency for a more open accommodation of the center right, Obama will soon be overseeing the battle to launch a dismantling of the Social Security system.

His government has, from the start, been reminiscent of the Clinton years, so it’s safe to say that we can expect more triangulation. Clinton’s adoption of Republican tropes led him to fulfill some of the conservatives’ fondest dreams: His administration countenanced the demise of the banking regulations originally established by the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act, and the destruction of the welfare system established in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s. Obama will provide much the same function on Social Security. Without entirely destroying the popular program, he will support cuts that go beyond anything that should rightly happen during a Democratic administration.

Of course, the Democrats will say that it isn’t their fault: It all happened because of that horrid Tea Party, dragging conservative Republicans even further to the right. This suggests that Democrats had no choice but to head them off at the rightward pass, as if standing and fighting simply wasn’t an option—and as if they didn’t still hold the Senate and the White House.  

What makes this especially disconcerting, for anyone who has lived long enough to remember earlier political eras, is how favorably the Republicans of the past compare to the Democrats of the present on many points.

Tracking back to the New Deal, one can find Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio—the most prominent conservative Republican of his time, later identified by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage as one of the five most important senators in history–registering his support for Social Security. A champion of private enterprise and enemy of labor unions, Taft bashed Roosevelt’s “socialistic” programs every which way, fighting to reduce runaway government and even opposing entry into World War II. But at the height of the Great Depression, he also supported the new Social Security program, as well as public housing and public education.

Taft embodied the tenets of Main Street middle western life before the Second World War. And he was not unreservedly laissez faire, nor was he anti-government. He believed in the intervention and utility of the federal government where he deemed it necessary, and that included providing an adequate, if not generous, public welfare system.

Taft ran for president three times and never made it. But Eisenhower, the war hero who became a popular Republican president, carried some of these same basic tenets into the postwar era. Eisenhower was not opposed to federal intervention in the economy and, for example, backed the creation of an interstate highway system, which became a vast public works program. And Eisenhower not only supported Social Security, but took steps to enlarge the program. According to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission:

Dwight Eisenhower was the principal force behind the greatest single expansion of Social Security beneficiaries in the history of the program. He led the legislative drive to add over ten million Americans to the system. Here’s how it developed.

When the Social Security Act became law in 1935 its purposes were primarily aimed at factory workers and other employees of business organizations. The legislative process leading to passage of the law was both lengthy and contentious. Large numbers of working American’s were left out of the original Old Age and Survivors Insurance coverage. No major changes in the Social Security law had been made since its initial passage.

During the presidential campaign of 1952, candidate Eisenhower made it clear that he believed the federal government played a rightful role in establishing the Social Security system, but he made no promises concerning its future. However, after the election it became clear that the Republicans would have control, by slim margins, of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This changed the political and legislative landscape considerably.

Previously, expansion of the Social Security system or increasing the level of payments to retired Americans had been given no chance to succeed in the Congress because there were enough conservative Democrats (and the majority of Republicans) who would vote against such bills. With a Republican President it now appeared likely that the majority of congressional Republicans would honor their President and support his initiatives. Among the new legislative possibilities, action on Social Security now seemed possible.

Thirteen days after taking his oath of office, President Eisenhower delivered his first State of the Union message to Congress and, when discussing the need for greater effectiveness of government programs, he said, “The provisions of the old-age and survivors insurance law should promptly be extended to cover millions of citizens who have been left out of the social security system.”

The following week, during a White House meeting of the House and Senate Republican leadership, Eisenhower brought up the Social Security expansion proposal and asked America’s most famous living conservative, Senator Robert A. Taft, if he would support the initiative. When he received a positive reply he knew that the possible had just become the probable. Before the end of the month, Eisenhower appointed a presidential commission to study the Social Security system’s deficiencies and submit a detailed report on specific reform measures. In his public statement creating the commission, the President said, “It is a proper function of government to help build a sturdy floor over the pit of personal disaster, and to this objective we are all committed.”

Those opposed to the initiative stressed their belief that retirement income was the responsibility of every individual and the federal government should not be involved. One citizen should not have to pay for the old age necessities of another. President Eisenhower responded to this notion during his press conference on June 17, 1953 with these remarks: “A strict application, let us say, of economic theory, at least as taught by Adam Smith, would be, ‘Let these people take care of themselves; during their active life they are supposed to save enough to take care of themselves.’ In this modern industry, dependent as we are on mass production, and so on, we create conditions where that is no longer possible for everybody. So the active part of the population has to take care of all the population, and if they haven’t been able during the course of their active life to save up enough money, we have these systems.”

You know it’s a measure of how far this country has moved to the right that someone like myself could wax nostalgic for the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft. (Next stop: Remembrances of the Nixon years, when the richest Americans were taxed at a rate of 70 percent.) Yet now we see the historic approach of these two major Republicans figures—the icon of the Senate and the storied war hero—submerged beneath the threat of the Tea Party adherents. And it is all happening under the listless hand of Obama, while the Democratic mainstream sits passively back and watches the demise of the programs that made their party great.

In the end, history most likely will judge that the final blows against the New Deal came not from the Republicans, but from weak or opportunistic Democratic politicians–first Clinton, then Obama.

S.C. Republican’s Plan: Starve the Poor So They’ll Stop “Breeding”

Poor people are like stray dogs and cats, says South Carolina’s Republican Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer. If you feed, them, they’ll just come back for more–and worse still, they’ll multiply. That’s why it’s a bad idea to give them free food or other forms of public assistance. 

At a forum in Greeneville on Saturday, Bauer, who is running for governor, told the crowd:

My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.

You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.

In a later interview with the Columbia, S.C. newspaper The State, Bauer “said he could have chosen his words more carefully,” but that doesn’t change the fact that “South Carolina needs to have an honest conversation about the cycle of government dependency among its poorest residents.”

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, those “poorest residents” include 190,000 children. South Carolina is the 37th worst state when it come to child poverty, 45th worst for infant mortality, and 48th worst for low birth weight babies. Perhaps Andre Bauer can have an “honest conversation” with them–if they aren’t too hungry to talk.

Bauer, who has risen in state politics as a Christian conservative, was immediately attacked by his Democratic opponents for the governor’s seat:

“It amazes me how some Republican politicians claim a monopoly on Christianity and then go out and say and do some of the most un-Christian things imaginable,” said Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod, who participated in a candidates forum in Columbia along with Bauer Saturday. “… Bauer’s comments are despicable and the total opposite of the Christian values Bauer espouses.”

Those “Christian values” were much on display back in June of 2009, when Bauer was rumored to be pressuring Mark Sanford to resign after the governor declared his love for his Argentinian girlfriend. (According to state law, Bauer would have replaced him.) Bauer denied the accusations–and at the same time, attacked rumors of another kind. In the week after the Sanford scandal broke, The State reported:

In each interview, Bauer has not called for Sanford’s resignation, saying it’s not his call. But at times, he has subtly turned up the rhetoric.

During an interview Monday, Bauer, who is a bachelor, voluntarily brought up the subject of his sexual orientation, which he said has been the subject of rumors.

Asked, then, if he’s homosexual, Bauer said: “One word, two letters. ‘No.’ Let’s go ahead and dispel that now.

“Is Andre Bauer gay? That is now the story,” he said. “We’re a long way from where we were a week ago.

“We have diverted what the real topic should be here: Is the governor capable for carrying on the duties for which he was elected?”

GOP to America: Get Real, You Are “Over-Insured”

Going into the House health care debate and vote tomorrow, it pays to keep in mind what the Republican party has identified as the real problem with American health care. I’ve mentioned this before as a longstanding tenet of conservative thinking, but Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly sums it up succinctly one more time. They quote former Congressman Dick Armey, the guru of the tea party crowd, saying, “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured.”

There it is, the right’s philosophy on American health care in 17 words. Most of us think the problem with the existing system is that we pay too much, get too little, and leave too many behind. Dick Armey sees the existing system and thinks we’d all be better off with less coverage. Lest anyone think this is unique to Armey, the opposite is true. A few years ago, during Bush’s pitch in support of health saving accounts, the LA Times’ Peter Gosselin explained, “Most conservatives — including those in the [Bush] administration — believe that the root cause of most problems with the nation’s healthcare system is that most Americans are over-insured.”

Just two months ago, Reps. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making the same case. “When was the last time you asked your doctor how much it would cost for a necessary test or procedure?” they asked, making the case that consumers need more “control … over their care.”

It’s all premised on the notion that health insurance encourages medical treatments. If we have coverage, we might get tests and procedures that we wouldn’t get if weren’t so darned insured. Less coverage means fewer costs.